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Getting Giddy on Books

Hurrah! I sent off my MG spies-and-fairies book to my lovely UK editor yesterday morning, meaning that I have officially hit my final (so far!) deadline of the year. Whew!

This has been a seriously intense last year for very good reasons - in just over ten months, between April 2, 2016 and February 9, 2017, I have three books coming out (Masks and Shadows, Congress of Secrets and The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart), and a significant (30,000-word) freelance project under a pen name! I am SO grateful that this has all come together so amazingly well, but: oof. I am so relieved to have hit my final and most important deadline - the one I'd been most worried about - because honestly, there were a few points this year when I didn't know how I could do it.

WHEW!

And the very best part is that suddenly, all I want to do is READ! For the past several months, my brain has been so intensely focused on my own books-in-progress that I didn't have the energy & attention to read many new-to-me books by other people - all I could manage were comfort re-reads. But now I want to read EVERYTHING!

I devoured Mary Stewart's re-released novella The Wind off the Small Isles earlier this week, which was lovely - and such a treat to get a new-to-me Mary Stewart story after all these years! - and finished Robin Stevens's Murder Most Unladylike (a.k.a. Murder is Bad Manners in the US/CA) yesterday morning. (You can see my slightly spoiler-y review on Goodreads. The short version: I ordered Book 2 about 30 seconds after finishing Book 1! VERY addictive.)



Now I'm a third of the way through Ilona Andrews's Magic Binds (the latest book in my very favorite urban fantasy series ever), really loving it, and also impatiently waiting for today's expected book mail: Robin Stevens's Arsenic for Tea (Book 2 in the Wells & Wong MG mystery series) and my preordered copy of Two Naomis, by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and Audrey Vernick, which I've been looking forward to for months.



I also just bought Tracey Baptiste's The Jumbies, which looks absolutely fabulous and has gotten great reviews.



So in other words, I am completely giddy on books right now! :)

Most of my energy for the next few days has to go to cleaning our messy house (because we've been in Deadline Mode for far too long!) before an upcoming kid birthday party. Pretty soon, I'll start writing my own novels and stories again. (Monday, I hope!)

But right now I'm just going to roll around in all the books I can for a while longer. Hurrah!

***

Oh, and since I am posting this on a Wednesday, and Wednesday is Book Quote Wednesday over on Twitter, I might as well share the quote I put up on Twitter today. This week's theme for #bookqw was "mistake," so here's mine from Masks and Shadows:

Authors for Refugees

Hey! Would you like to get a signed ARC of The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart (complete with gorgeous chapter header illustrations by Freya Hartas) AND help refugees at the same time? You can bid here to do that - and also check out all the other fabulous offerings (from manuscript critiques to books and CDs and more) at the Authors for Refugees auction. It's open until Monday, September 26th, and it's supporting a really, really important cause.

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I'll post a real, longer blog entry soon, but today I'm racing to get through my last polish of my MG spies-and-fairies book so that I can send it to my editor within the next few days. Please wish me luck!

And: check out the auction!

Happiness, Good Quotes, and Reading Recs

Whew! I finished Draft 1.1 of my MG spies-and-fairies book on Wednesday, and I heard from my lovely agent today that she likes it! Double-WHEW. :) I am feeling so happy and relieved right now.

Will there ever be a time in my career when I stop feeling so nervous every time I send off a new book?

Part of this is probably an inescapable side-effect of trying to take on scary new writing challenges with each new book - that's a nearly-guaranteed recipe for vulnerability as an artist, even though it feels like the right thing to do!

I had a really good Twitter-conversation earlier this week with another writer whose work I love about ways of getting the work done. One of the things we talked about was how we both use inspirational quotes to get through the times when we're struggling (whether that's because of health, confidence, or any other issue). Coincidentally enough, we've both used book-money to commission jewellery with the mottos that personally inspire us. (So now I wonder: How many other people have done that, too? Have any of you guys? If so, I'd love to hear about it!)

Her beautiful motto is Post Tenebras, Lux (After darkness, light); mine, for a long time, has been Invincible Summer (from Camus's quote "In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.")

What about you guys? Whether or not you've ever put it on a piece of jewelry, do you have a motto that you come back to for inspiration?

In terms of a different kind of inspiration, I've been reading so many good books over the last few weeks! Ronald Smith's Hoodoo has one of the best narrative voices of any MG novel I've read in a long time. It is gorgeously creepy and magical! In fact, it's so creepy that at one point I had to set it down because I was getting shaky just reading it! (I am a horror wimp.) But the story was so compelling and the magic all felt so real, I HAD to come back to it even as a horror wimp - and I absolutely LOVED it. :)



Natasha Farrant's Time for Jas is the fourth book in her Diaries of Bluebell Gadsby series, which is one of my very favorite MG series ever. The series is about a quirky, sometimes-dysfunctional, always-loving family in contemporary London, it's all enormously funny and sometimes incredibly heart-wrenching, and this fourth book was just perfect. I cried at the end, in the very best way. You could probably start with this book and enjoy it just fine (and it was in fact my favorite book in the whole series), but why not start at the beginning with After Iris and get to enjoy the whole course of the family's journey? (I re-read After Iris immediately after reading Time for Jas, and I loved it more than ever.)



I'm halfway through Jewell Parker Rhodes's Bayou Magic, and it's a wonderful contemporary MG fantasy set in Louisiana, full of family, fireflies, mermaids, love and magic. It's so beautifully written and so full of warmth that reading it feels like getting a big hug! I'm forcing myself to move slowly through it, so I get to enjoy it for as long as possible - and I feel happy every time I read a new chunk of it. :)



I've also just started Robin Stevens's Murder Most Unladylike (a.k.a. Murder is Bad Manners in the US/CA) - the first book in the Wells & Wong series of British schoolgirl mysteries set in the 1930s - which is SO MUCH fun, I'm kicking myself for not reading it two years ago when it first came out! Then again, that means I can devour the first four books in the series (along with two bonus stories!) all at once now. So: that's an excellent consolation! :)



And the wonderful Ying Lee just interviewed me over at The History Girls about my own book Masks and Shadows. The questions she asked were so thoughtful and in-depth - they were really fun to answer! You can read the interview here.

Happy Friday!
It's the beginning of the school year here in the UK...almost. That is, my older son started school last week, but my younger son won't start for real until next week because his lovely, nurturing new nursery believes in staggered starts. That's wonderful in many ways...but this starting schedule has been a bit of a nightmare for a working parent with a big book deadline coming soon and no scheduled childcare this week. Oops!


In other words, I've been a bit stressed-out. Over the last five days I have managed to revise 109 pages out of my 212-page manuscript, which counts as a definite victory...but now I'm FLOPPED. (Literally, on my bed, as I type.) And I am behind on eeeeeverything else! So if you're someone whose email I haven't replied to, or whose manuscript I should have already critiqued, I can only say: I am SO SORRY. It's not you (or your manuscript), it's me. It is very much me.

But! At least I'm over halfway through this revision (we'll call it Draft 1.2) of my MG spies-and-fairies book. Which I love! And it's been a great excuse to eat a lot of chocolate. ;)

This is also, thank goodness, the season of The Great British Bake Off, which Patrick & I watch every week with absolute addiction (sometimes holding hands for mutual support because it is SO TENSE)! In general, I'm not a fan of reality TV shows, but this one I absolutely adore, and it's also a great reminder of one of the best things about being a writer: we can always revise. No one's expecting me to write a perfect novel in three hours (or in a single draft) and be judged on it! I can keep on rewriting and polishing every book until I'm happy with it, and Paul Hollywood will NOT stand next to me me giving me skeptical looks as I work.

WHEW.

And speaking of new novels...

Check out this international giveaway for a signed ARC of Congress of Secrets! If you're a Goodreads member, no matter where in the world you live, you can enter that giveaway now. Good luck!

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And guess what came in the mail this past week? A gorgeous big pile of UK ARCs for The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart! So...how about another giveaway? :)

My next newsletter will go out in early October...and one newsletter subscriber (from anywhere in the world) will win an ARC of The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart! So if you're not already a newsletter subscriber, sign up here to become a subscriber and enter the giveaway. (People who already subscribe will automatically be entered into the giveaway without any need to do anything extra.)

Happy Friday, guys!

Dragon Covers!

Hooray! I can finally, finally share the two (!) covers for my next MG fantasy novel, The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart. The book is being published by Bloomsbury in both the UK and US, but of course cover styles are very different in those two countries...

...and you can see both versions at The Book Smugglers today!

I truly love both cover artists and both covers - and the great thing is, they're both perfect for the story even though they come at it from very different angles! But I'm really curious: which one is your favorite?

I'd love to hear about it in comments either here or at the cover reveal post!

(PS: The post includes a note from me about the UK cover and not the US cover only because the US cover was a last-minute - and very welcome! - addition to the cover reveal. It definitely wasn't meant to imply any unfair preferences on my part! :) I honestly love BOTH of my book-baby-covers equally.)

Home Again, Home Again

We made it! We're back home in the UK...and oof. It was a rough re-entry, since my older son came down with a terrible case of the rotavirus (stomach flu) on our first night back. We're all still pretty jetlagged, and I'm dealing with with a serious post-travel M.E./CFS crash, but I've also been spending time in our beautiful garden, my parents are here giving us an enormous amount of help during this first week back, and it's really good to be here again. I do love our house and the beautiful mountains that rise around our town. Seeing them again for the first time as we drove back last Thursday was the moment when my shoulders finally relaxed (after our veeeery long trip) and I thought: Oh, I really am home!

There was another wonderful welcome-home moment just a couple of days later, when my first British ARCs of The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart arrived! Eeee!



(My editor's note said "EXCITING POST!!!" and she was so right!)

Again, this isn't the final cover - this image is just one part of the final back cover! - but I absolutely love it. And then I opened the first ARC up to Chapter One, saw this beautiful header there, and got completely over-emotional:



(Each chapter has a different header image, all by the wonderful Freya Hartas, who is also the cover artist for the UK edition. The US edition has a different - also wonderful! - cover artist, but I think it will also use these gorgeous chapter headers. Freya actually mailed me the original sketch for this particular header, very generously, so I have it framed in my room and I look at it all the time! I love it so much.)

Better yet, this Thursday I'll finally get to share the final covers for both the UK and the US editions with you guys! They're going to be revealed over at The Book Smugglers, and I can't wait. They're each very different from each other, but I love them both.

I also had lovely news about other books this past week. Kirkus Reviews - which is notoriously harsh - actually (mostly) (and miraculously) liked Congress of Secrets! Woooot! The last lines of their review say "Burgis paints an engaging cast and has a fine eye for the details of 1814 Vienna. History buffs will find this to be a tasty, if airy, bit of strudel."

I am now, of course, planning to refer to Congress of Secrets as "a tasty bit of strudel" at EVERY POSSIBLE OPPORTUNITY. ;) (I'm having to restrain myself from referring to myself that way too!)

And then last night, just when I was really struggling with the M.E. crash, pure exhaustion, and the kids' ongoing, jetlag-fuelled refusal to just get to sleep at a reasonable hour, I saw this beautiful review of Masks and Shadows, and it actually made me tear up - it was just exactly the right moment to see it.

So! There's been lots of wonderful book-stuff over this past week to counteract my post-travel issues. Now I'm going to go make lunch for the boys, and then this afternoon we'll meet up with friends at the beautiful vineyard near our house, where the kids will eat ice cream and play in the stream and the adults will chat and catch up after the summer holidays.

It's good to be back home. :)

What I Miss

Things I will miss terribly when I leave America:
  • My American family members

  • My American friends

  • Food delivery. SO MUCH amazing food delivery!

  • Rice Chex

  • The trees that line the streets of my home town, making me feel as though I'm living in a forest

  • My parents' house, which will always feel like home

  • My lovely hometown library and bookstore


Things I am looking forward to about coming back to the UK:
  • My British family members

  • My British friends

  • Our wonderful dog, Maya, who is so beloved and so old and so creaky that every time we leave, I worry (a lot) about whether she'll be waiting for us when we get back

  • Our house, which I love

  • My latte machine

  • Our back garden

  • My favorite cake shop in the world

  • Our lovely local library and bookstore


It's both a good and a bad thing - and, I guess, perfectly appropriate for my dual nationality - that when I'm living in the UK, I miss America, and when I'm visiting America, I miss the UK. I'm very lucky to get to experience them both.

Please wish us safe travels!

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Pittsburgh Werewolves and Dragon Joy

Hooray! Editor (and writer!) Heather Shaw has just launched a fabulous new magazine, Persistent Visions, and the very first short story they're publishing is my funny werewolves-in-Pittsburgh story, "Pack Dynamics"! This is a Meet the Parents story gone wrong...with werewolves! It's set in a neighborhood where I used to live (Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh), and it was so much fun to write.

Thanks so much to Heather for buying it, and to my brother Ben for inspiring this story as a Christmas gift! (He asked for another urban fantasy story in the same vein as "Undead Philosophy 101", my vampires-in-East-Lansing story, and this was the result!)

You can read the story here. I hope you guys enjoy it!

"Pack Dynamics," of course, is a story for adults (although I think it would be perfectly okay for YA-aged readers and up), but I had some really great MG news this week, too.

Look what's sitting in my UK editor's office now - ARCs of The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart!



That's not the final cover of the book - that pot of enchanted hot chocolate actually comes from the back cover of the final book! :) - but I adore it. And the UK cover artist, Freya Hartas, has also done gorgeous interior chapter-header illustrations that will probably appear in both the UK and US editions. She shared one of them here!

You can preorder the book now in the UK (from Waterstones or Amazon UK) and in the US, too (from Amazon only, so far - I'll make sure to add links to IndieBound and B&N as soon as they go up)! And you can find out more about it here.

Now Patrick and I are about to go out to celebrate our (belated) wedding anniversary, which got delayed this year due to kid-illness and deadline stress. But we're not waiting any longer! It's time for movies and anniversary goodness. Hurrah!

Happy Friday!

A Long Journey, Finally Finished

WHEW. I just sent off my final proofreading notes on Congress of Secrets. They'll be amended in the typeset manuscript, which will then be sent to print by Pyr Books this week...

...So in other words, I am really and truly done with this book. That is always a huge moment with each new book, exciting and scary both at once. This is it! There's no more work to be done - and no more changes that can be made either. It's finished!

And it's an even bigger moment this time round, because - I just went back to my notes to check this date - I first began writing Congress of Secrets on July 7, 2005. That's just over 11 years ago! I finished the first draft on April 6, 2006, did a few rounds of preliminary revision to it (in-between other projects, a dayjob, and big life events) that finished on July 27, 2007...

...and then I stopped. I set the book aside.

I knew it wasn't right yet. It wasn't ready to be published...and I wasn't ready to deal with that in any way.

I wasn't ready as a writer, because I was still at the stage where I could look at the draft I had and think "This isn't right"...but I wasn't experienced enough yet to know how to pin that wrongness down, or how to fix it.

More than that, though, I wasn't ready as a person. Congress of Secrets is the most romantic book I've ever written, but it's also the darkest book I've ever written, and in 2007, I was at a stage where I couldn't cope with that darkness in my writing at all. I'd just been diagnosed with M.E./CFS, and I'd had to give up my dayjob because of it. I had no financial prospects; I was terrified about what the rest of my life was going to look like...in other words, I was struggling with more than enough darkness in my own life. I couldn't deal with it in my writing, too.

I needed lightness. I needed fun. I needed an escape. I needed Kat, Incorrigible, and I'm so glad that I chose to focus on Kat and her family at that point. It was exactly the right decision for that moment.

I needed all these extra years in-between to grow as an author - to know how to take this book to the next level that it needed - and to grow as a person, too, who can manage her own darkness.

I'm so glad I've come back to Caroline and her darkness and her survivor-strength now...and to her unexpected romance, too! (My favorite quote from yesterday's proofreading session: "Thank God for well-timed distractions from useless feelings." ;) The romance in this book is between two very cynical people, it arrives much to the shock of both of them, interfering with both of their plans, and it was SO MUCH fun for me to write it!)

There's plenty of fun in this book as well as darkness, of course - it's a thriller set in 1814 Vienna, with the royalty and aristocracy of Europe all gathered together and scheming all over the place. There was SO MUCH deliciousness to work with in that setting! I have absolutely loved re-immersing myself in it, and in my characters. Caroline and Michael are two of my favorite characters I've ever written - both super-smart, super-competent survivors with deep (and extremely well-hidden) vulnerabilities and a flair for wicked banter.

But now I really am done.

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As I finished re-reading Congress of Secrets today, I let out a sigh of bittersweet satisfaction.

It's finally time to let this book go. I hope you guys enjoy it when it comes out on November 1st!

It's been a long journey, but I'm so glad to finally be here.

Great Night, Great News, and a New E-Book!

The event at Schuler Books last night went so well - hooray! It was wonderful to get to hang out with Jim and Merrie and Patrick, listen to their (wonderful) readings and chat about our books - and it was also really wonderful to see all the people who had come for the talk! I so appreciated how many people came for the event (even one all the way from Indiana - thank you so much, Maureen!). It was exciting to finally meet in person some of the people I've known for years online, and exciting to meet new people, too. And oh, it was lovely to have old friends from home come, too. Thank you guys!

Jim Hines posted an album of photos of the event on Facebook, and Schuler Books also posted this photo of the event as a whole:

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Afterwards, we went out to eat with a few friends, and when I checked my email, we got to toast great news together - my novelette The Art of Deception is one of the finalists for the WSFA Small Press Short Fiction Awards! The other writers on that shortlist are amazing, and I am really honored to be part of the list.

The Art of Deception is my tribute to The Prisoner of Zenda, The Three Musketeers and every other cloak-and-dagger adventure that includes fabulous swordfights full of style. I wrote it as a gift for my brother Dave one Christmas (when he'd asked for a story with swordfighting, banter and a twisty plot), and it was published in the wonderful Australian anthology Insert Title Here, edited by Tehani Wessely.



Tehani is a fabulous editor, and I was so lucky to get to work with her on this story. She creates beautiful anthologies, and I strongly recommend the whole book! The other authors in the anthology are fantastic, and I was thrilled to be a part of it.

If you're not in the mood for a full anthology right now, though, you can also now buy my story on its own as an ebook. Check out the beautiful cover by Jenn Reese at Tiger Bright Studios! I love it:

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Right now you can find it at Amazon US, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iBooks, Smashwords, and every other branch of Amazon in the world!

(I'm not offering a printable PDF version of this one, but you can absolutely read it in paper by buying the paper version of Insert Title Here. And then you'll get lots of other great stories, too!)

In other words, it's been a really great 24 hours! Thank you so much to everyone who's been a part of it. :)

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